Heather Michon

Heather Michon
June 25
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JANUARY 2, 2012 9:34AM

Campaigning While Female, 2012 Edition.

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In the countdown to the Iowa caucus, the Associated Press has pulled Minnesota Congresswoman Michele Bachmann over for campaigning while female.

In an article that in hundreds of print and online outlets yesterday, it accuses the year's only female presidential candidate of, essentially, whipping out the vagina at the last moment.

Headlined "Bachmann Plays the Gender Card," in the piece, AP reporter Brian Bakst writes that an increasingly "desperate" Bachmann "has made the gender card central to her closing argument." 

Bakst reports that Bachmann "seldom underscored gender early in her campaign," only "sprinkling" her stump speech with references to being a mother and how her history of miscarriage played into her anti-abortion views. "But as Bachmann darted around Iowa in the hectic days before Tuesday's caucuses, she hit the woman theme hard." 

He contrasts her approach to Hillary Clinton's 2008 campaign, pointing out that Clinton played the gender talk down "favoring pantsuits over skirts and stressing instead her experience and resolve," and only really acknowledging the historic nature of her candidacy after she dropped out.

The problem with Bakst's argument is that, aside from a new talking point casting herself as America's Margaret Thatcher, Bachmann's gender has always been a central part of her candidacy. 

When you place your identity as wife and mother at the center of your stump speech, that's not a "sprinkle," that's a powerful message to potentially millions of other wives and mothers out there who have never seen a candidate that looked or sounded like them. As we saw in both the Clinton and Palin candidacies of 2008, it's an image that speaks to women across countless political, religious and socio-economic divisions.

Bachmann has never been more than a second-tier candidate; much of the media coverage of her campaign has been driven by the fact that she's the girl in the race this time around. She's benefitted from it, getting her name and her message out to millions more people than her small campaign fund would usually permit, but on balance, it's been a huge drawback.   

She's faced legitimate questions over her role as a "submissive wife" and what that would mean if she were president. She's faced illegitimate questions about her husband's sexuality and its unavoidable (if unspoken) reflection back on her own sexuality.

Without knowing a thing about Mitt Romney's cholesterol levels or Rick Perry's prostate, there's been ample coverage of Bachmann's migraines and whether they form a disqualification for high political office. We also know that Bachmann wore a bright red wool coat on Sunday, that she spent $4,700 for a stylist back in June and that she's not always artful with the makeup.

Even though her positions on the issues are no more radical than those of several of her male competitors, it's been far easier to portray Bachmann as hysteric, or crazy, or a "lyin' ass bitch." 

None of this is to argue that Bachmann is the best candidate or qualified to be president. It's simply to say that we still don't know how to place female presidential candidates in our national mindset, and this makes it altogether too easy to fall back on negative views of cackle-y, cankle-y, bitchy, witchy, nutcracking, castrating, crazy, dominating, frigid, manipulative, hysterical, headachy, weepy, haggy, saggy womanhood. Until we can change that, we'll never put a card-carrying female in the Oval Office.



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Thanks for this. I've watched this whole process laid out and Bachman has absolutely been marginalized for "being the girl." It is shameful that the U.S still has never voted in a woman for president while so many other countries have done so successfully and without prejudice.
Hilary Clinton almost made it and, yes, suffered a lot of misogynist coverage. Much of that is gone and in many quarters she's spoken of as someone who should have been prez instead of that (black) guy. Bachmann IS a lyin' ass bitch. Unfair and snarky coverage may differ depending on the gender of the candidate, but the male Repub candidates have got a lot of comments about hair and their efforts at projecting masculinity, etc. I'm not sure anything that has been said about Bachmann is quite as squirm-making as speculation about Romney's underwear or jokes about the now-urban-definition of Santorum's name...

Bachmann, or her supporters, would like to have it both ways - gender unimportant when that suits, gender important when that suits. Typical POLITICIAN lyin'-ass behavior. But Bachmann is so crazy and mean that I can't help but be in favor of anything that marginalizes her.

That all said, the US is really, in many ways, and this is one of them, behind a lot of nations. Tho you also have to take into account that some nations, such as India and Pakistan, that have had women leaders are not female-friendly.
I don't think it has to do with being female. I think it has to do with not being moderate Mitt Romney. Cain isn't female, Gingrich and Paul aren't black and the media has destroyed them all. They like Romney because he's the most palatable tool of the New World Order and will have an administration that's indistinguishable from Obama or his predecessor.
It's a disgrace that in over two centuries we've never elected a woman president. (See my latest Open Salon blog.) Our friends both male and female agree wholeheartedly, by the way. In fact I'm hard-pressed to think of anyone we know who will admit to NOT wanting a woman in the White House. But Michelle Bachmann is clearly not qualified for the job. Michelle Obama, on the other hand, probably is, and probably would be a far better president than the guy she married. To be fair, the satire of high-profile comedy "news" show hosts, John Stewart and Stephen Colbert, has been every bit as brutal (perhaps more so) in exposing the idiocy and hypocrisy of male candidates, Herman Cain, Newt Gingrich, and Rick Santorum, and, yes, even pretty boy Mitt Romney. And David Letterman's nightly cheap shots about "that thing on his head" may be one reason why Donal Trump decided not to have a go. It seems to me that comedians and satirists get it right more often than the talking heads on FOX News or CNN. Having said that, your general point about women in politics, and let's be honest, other realms and occupations, as well, is valid. The tired argument that cultural change is a slow process is true, but self-serving in a male-dominant society. Hence, the Bill of Rights was ratified in 1791 and it ONLY took our privileged white male politicians until 1920 to ratify the 19th Amendment. Even then, had it not been for a long and sustained campaign on the part of a politically astute cadre of charismatic women, it would not have happened. Nearly a century later, Washington is still largely inhospitable to women in leadership roles. We either wait for Culture to change History or take control of History and change culture. That, after all, is one of the lessons of the 20th century. Let's hope we are capable of learning it before it's too late.
I agree with a lot of your points regarding the difficulties women face in politics. On the other hand, you can't ignore the fact that Bachmann has said some pretty stupid things. Also, if Hillary were to run now (not that I want her to) or in 2016, I think she would probably win. So maybe we're doing better than we think.
What bothers me more is the way the president's wife is portrayed by angry white conservatives.

I think that Bachmann has been called out because of her hard-right views; in this case her gender doesn't seem much of in issue in light of talking points, lies and factual mistakes, which are easier to condemn.
How sad, she is so lame. Of course I would like to see a female president elected to office in my lifetime, but who knows if that will transpire. Do I want ANY female to be president? No, least of all, this pathetic specimen. Rated.
I think you make a good point in general Heather. It's too bad the press hadn't merely stuck to what's she's actually said. There's enough bizarre howlers there that anyone wanting to discredit her needn't stoop to cheap tactics.
Excellent point!! Needed to be said ---again.
Michelle Bachmann spreads much evil and ignorance, but so have the other Republican candidates. She should be criticized for that, not for her gender. She, like the other Republican candidates, is a misogynist. She happens to be female, but misogynists of both genders are common in this country.

But if she or any of her main GOP opponents were in the White House, they would make the lives of millions of American women more difficult because of their opposition to reproductive justice and their support of cruel economic policies.